This is an important question. There are some lakes which, for one reason or another, do not allow the wonderful types of docks that we enjoy here at Smith Mountain Lake. Some lakes have such a large variation in water levels that stationary boathouses are not possible. Other lakes have such strict environmental and building code regulations that a nice boathouse is not allowable. Some lakes are in hurricane belts, and therefore do not allow indoor structures that may be more susceptible to being damaged and to cause damage to other properties in high winds.
Smith Mountain Lake is blessed with a wide assortment of boathouse and dock styles and sizes. However, in the past several years limitations have been placed on the construction of new docks. It used to be that waterfront property owners could build just about any type and size of dock they wished. They could even build living quarters above their boatslip (there are still a few of these around the lake now). As the lake has become so popular, the rules for dock size, style and placement needed to change.
In 2003, the definitive Shoreline Management Plan was issued by Appalachian Power (American Electric Power or AEP) in conjunction with The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This plan defines guidelines for docks, erosion control, beaches, homesites and much more. The following sections highlight some of the regulations covered under Shoreline Management.
Allowance for a Dock
Appalachian Power wants people to have a dock for their property. However, it is critical that the dock not hamper anyone else’s enjoyment of the lake. Therefore, to install, expand, or significantly refurbish a dock on your property, you must apply for a permit. This is inexpensive and not overly complicated, but it is important that it be done correctly. This permit will require that you draw the dock on a plat of your lot, showing the dimensions, style and other information. Ask a realty agent if they are willing to assist you in filing a dock permit, or call AEP at (540) 489-2556.
Lots subdivided before the Shoreline Management Plan went into effect in 2003 can generally obtain a dock permit. However, lots developed after the Plan generally need to have at least 100 feet of shoreline to obtain a dock permit unless a dock easement was provided at some point. (There is a rumor that all lots must have 100 feet of shoreline to build a dock, but this is not the case – it is generally only lots developed after the Plan went into effect. Most lots allow for a dock since developers generally make sure new lots meet this requirement).
If you’re buying a lot or a home without a dock, it is critical that you personally check the length of the shoreline to verify what is reported in the realty listing. If there is less than 100 feet, you should also have your agent verify the year the lot was subdivided. Note that it is not always obvious where to measure the shoreline. For example, I recently sold a point lot that had about 200 feet of shoreline reported on the plat at the 800-foot contour line. The actual shoreline, however, is at the 795 foot contour line, and the shoreline there exceeded 300 feet. This was a wonderful benefit to the owners, but can work against you as well. Some of the regulations pertain to the shoreline at the actual lake level of 795 feet above shoreline; others pertain to 800 feet above sea level. AEP regulates up to the 800 foot contour line.
In order to assure that enjoyment of the lake is not hampered, new docks must be positioned at least 15 feet inside the property line and at least 30 feet from any other structure (e.g. the neighbor’s dock).